Historical sociolinguistics explores the intersections between language and society and does so in historical contexts.
In 2022, researchers at five EutopiaLink opens in a new window universities formed the History, Identity, and Linguistic Diversity Connected Research Community Incubator to explore ways that their work in historical sociolinguistics could achieve modern impact. They posed a challenge to themselves:
“How can we reduce present-day European conflict through knowledge of historical multilingualism, language conflict, and language policy?”
In these interviews, historical sociolinguists from Eutopia universities respond to this challenge.
Listen to them here, or on your favorite podcast streaming service:
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Grammar books and linguistic diversity in the teaching of Spanish in Catalonia (19th century)
Jenny Brumme (Universitat Pompeu Fabra Barcelona)
The politics of language in Catalonia is becoming increasingly controversial as some sectors of society push for Catalan independence. Today, Catalonia is overwhelmingly bilingual (Catalan-Spanish), but this was not always the case. Throughout the 19th century many Spanish teaching materials (written by Catalan authors) were conceived for being used in primary schools to teach Catalan children, who until this point had little or no knowledge of Spanish. The slow and protracted expansion of the school system played a major role in this. The teachers are conceived as witnesses to the process of Überdachung (roofing): How is Spanish described? What are the authors’ attitudes towards Spanish and its role in Catalonia? What do teachers think about Catalan? Against this background, the current situation can be assessed.
The language standardisation conflicts Catalan undergoes: Are they now the same that Pompeu Fabra (1868-1948) addressed? Are they addressed in the same way?
Joan Costa-Carreras (Universitat Pompeu Fabra Barcelona)
Pompeu Fabra laid the foundations for the Catalan standardisation (1891-1933). Nowadays, the Institute for Catalan Studies (IEC) and the Valencian Academy of Language (AVL), the current standardisation official bodies, have restandardised the language. This presentation will set out how:
- To analyse how Fabra addressed the conflict between language standardisation and language diversity.
- To analyse how both the IEC and the AVL address this conflict.
- To analyse to what extent the official bodies are standardising Catalan in the same way as Fabra would have done it nowadays.
The premises are that the three standardisations are analysable from Haugen’s (1983) perspective. The concepts of “conflict”, “normalisation”, “equity” and “linguistic justice” will help to do it. The hypothesis are that (a) the three standardisations address status and corpus conflicts at the same time, (a) the three standardisations look for “language normalisation”, “language equity” and “linguistic justice”, but (c) they do so differently due to the different socio-political contexts. The methodology will consist of a definition of the key concepts taken, and a study of Fabra’s (1901-1932), the IEC’s and the AVL’s texts.
The verticalization model of language shift and the maintenance of minoritised languages
Oliver Currie (Univerza v Ljubljani)
The relatively new verticalization model of language shift (Salmons 2005a; 2005b; Brown 2022) seeks to provide a unified approach to explaining language shift in terms of a broader change from a horizontal, locally controlled and autonomous organization of community structures, to a vertical one, where community institutions are externally controlled by the larger society, speaking another language, in which a local community is embedded. As a result of verticalization, “social networks reorient themselves toward the external society in which they are embedded [and] people begin using the language of that society more frequently” (Frey 2022: 139). Verticalization theory makes a strong and testable claim that “if communities give up horizontal patterns in favour of vertical ones, shift follows” (Brown and Salmons 2022: 1). Although the verticalization model of language shift has been developed primarily on the basis of the study of language shift (and maintenance) in immigrant communities in North America in the 19th and 20th centuries, it is also relevant for indigenous minoritised languages in Europe.
This paper explores to what extent and how the verticalization model of language shift can be applied, on the one hand, to historical shift scenarios in European indigenous minoritised language-speaking communities – focusing on the Celtic languages Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Breton – over a longer period and, on the other hand, to the present-day maintenance and revitalization of these languages. The Celtic language speaking communities have been progressively absorbed politically, economically and culturally into larger English or French-speaking polities. There has thus been a long-term shift from local economic, political and cultural autonomy to political, economic and cultural control by a centralised nation state in a wider context of internal colonialism (Hechter 1999), that is from a horizontal to a vertical community organization, which has in turn coincided with language shift. However, the specificities of verticalization and shift in the case of the Celtic languages also differ somewhat from those of North American immigrant languages. The verticalization processes affecting the Celtic language-speaking communities have occurred gradually over a longer period from the pre-modern era to the present day and have affected a larger, contiguous geographical area on the fringes of rather than enclosed within (as speech islands) the larger nation states in which they came to be absorbed. The verticalization processes as well as the patterns of language shift have also varied in nature and extent over space and time. The application of verticalization theory to indigenous minoritised languages thus raises the following questions:
- How much and what kind of verticalization is necessary to cause language shift and what degree of language shift (i.e. partial or complete)? Does verticalization necessarily lead to complete language shift?
- Is it possible to have a stable societal bilingualism in the context of language minoritization and verticalization? If not, what has to change in the nature of the bilingualism and community organisation to avoid complete language shift?
Such questions are important not only from a historical sociolinguistic perspective in understanding language shift in the past but are also crucial for the maintenance and revitalization of minoritized languages today and in turn for the preservation of linguistic and cultural diversity.
From historical sociophonetics to participant-led anti-language-prejudice research in East London
Christopher Strelluf (University of Warwick)
This project reports experiences using historical sociolinguistic evidence to support East London community groups to reduce conflicts connected with language ideologies. It describes a transition from community-oriented public engagement "historical sociophonetic" research to community-led public impact work in language. It advocates for linguistic research generally being augmented with goals to transition ownership over research to publics, and argues that historical sociolinguistics can be a surprising site to foster such transfer.
Alleged historical language conflict as rationale for real modern-day language conflict in Belgium
Wim Vandenbussche (Vrije Universiteit Brussels)
This work interrogates prominent present-day discourses of friction between Dutch and French in Belgium. Public discussions in Belgium routinely claim that conflict between Dutch and French today reflect a continuation of historical diglossia, with Dutch-language speakers being suppressed and disempower by a French-speaking elite throughout Belgium's history. This project draws upon original archival documents to explore Belgians' actual language practices in past centuries. It reveals a much more nuanced multilingual reality than narratives of historical language conflict depict. For instance, while many upper-class Belgians in the 1800s spoke French in domains like government and business, they also freely used Dutch in many everyday domains. In doing so, their language practices reflected the importance of French for some social functions and the importance of Dutch for others. Across a range of cases, historical sociolinguistic evidence reveals complexity–rather than just conflict–throughout Belgium's past. The project then notes present-day policies and practices that are predicated on ideologies that language conflct is perpetual in Belgium, challenging the rationale for these policies and practices. It illustrates that historical sociolinguistics offers a tool for examining original sources to reveal that historical realities are more complex than we normally represent, which can create opportunities to critique and challenge sociolinguistic ideologies and language policies that respond to (or result in) conflict.
Whose norms are it anyway? Historical and contemporary perspectives on standard languages and standardization
Rik Vosters (Vrije Universiteit Brussels)
Standard languages in Europe today are linguistic constructs which arose as the result of a century-long process of standardisation. In this presentation, I delve into the history of standardisation in Dutch, with a particular focus on tensions between Northern and Southern varieties of Dutch. We will discuss the idea that Dutch can be described as a pluricentric language, assessing the pluricentricity claim historically, and concluding that patterns of geographical diffusion are messier than can be captured with simple models based on modern nation-state boundaries. In addition, we will explore to which extent standardisation efforts from above, such as prescriptive efforts of grammarians and other norm-givers, have any impact on actual language use. By trying to answer these questions, I will attempt to challenge some of the grand narratives of language history, which provide the ideological underpinnings of our language regard today.
Names in multilingual and multicultural contexts: Policies, conflicts and lessons from the past
Michelle Waldispühl (Göteborgs universitet)
Names are linguistic units that not only individualize and identify places and people, but they also function as social markers, are imbedded in cultural and political discourses and underlie national laws. These social aspects of names and naming systems can cause conflicts in multilingual and multicultural contexts. Even though names are all around us and at the center of our daily social interaction, they are under-investigated in sociolinguistic research. This applies in particular to the forms and usages of names in multilingual and multicultural contexts, and historical perspectives are even more scarce. Moreover, there is little research that sheds light on this topic from a theoretical perspective. By exploring historical cases of names in multilingual/-cultural environments from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, this contribution seeks to find factors that caused conflicts in the past and aims at outlining effects of measures taken to solve them. The analysis addresses both the individual und the institutional level of name usage in multilingual/-cultural contexts and sociolinguistic key concepts applied are language and identity, indexicality, language and belonging and ideology in language policy. On the basis of the case analyses, considerations about sociolinguistic aspects of names in use are presented that might be considered to reduce future conflicts.